Thursday, August 26, 2010

Chap 4 Next Morning

The night had been a cool one, a relief after so many hot nights and the cool water from the evening before and taken the tension off. After a rough day there were smiles on the faces.
A sharp breeze rolled across Evan’s neck when he rolled over. Shadows were just starting to form. Early morning light gave form to the shapes around him, the wagons were outlined, beyond were the ridges and the hill was a distant glimmer in the sun. When Evan tossed the covers off a shiver ran through his limbs, it was cooler than usual this morning and there was moisture in the air.
Trying to be as quiet as possible Evan slid into his clothes, stirred the fire some, there was a glow, set a couple of chips in and put the coffee pot on the fire. Walking to his horse Evan slipped a halter on and rubbed the horse some, put some water into the bucket for the horse and went back to the fire to pour a tepid cup of coffee. He sat the cup on the wagon seat, jumped on the horses back, spun around, picked up the cup and headed out to round up the cattle.
There was enough light now to see the tufts of grass and clods. Riding up to the ridge to survey where the Oxen were. Climbing up the ridge Evan could see the sun on the distant clouds, on the horizon boiled a haze. At first glance he thought it was smoke, closer scrutiny he could see it was low clouds rolling down the sand creek. Fog was building to the west and headed their way. Quickly Evan turned the horse around, flipping the coffee cup empty and running for camp.
Flying into camp everybody that had been sleeping was now awake. Yelling Evan told his brothers to get mounted and help him to get the Oxen rounded up before the fog became so thick they could not see them. Hurriedly boots and pants were put on and shirts were slipped on while running to the horses. Up on the ridge they rode scouting where the cattle had roamed off to for the night. To the north were some dark shapes and a couple could be seen to the west. They broke off each going after the group they could see. Evan rode off to the southeast to see if some were that direction.
Evan rode onto another rise to look about, he saw two of them lying on the grass chewing their cud. He gathered them up and got them headed back towards camp. His brothers were returning also and when they counted they came up one short. They got the Oxen into their yokes and secured them to the wagons. The mules had been tied down nearby and would be okay. They had enough oxen and after breakfast they would ride out and see if they could find the lost Ox.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Travels by the Rails III

The day had been a grueling struggle. Getting the wagons up on the flat had taken its toll on the people as well as the animals. It was late afternoon and the oxen and mules were working up a good lather. On the horizon they could see a couple of buildings and tents with smoke rising from the chimneys. They were getting close to the railroad stop.
At the railroad town there was usually a store for a few provisions. With the animals struggling, it was doubtful they could get much further. Evan rode on ahead to check things out. When he returned the wagons were on a flat spot and the oxen were dragging. Evan told them that there was a small pond nearby and they could get water there. It was only a couple of miles but they decided to set up camp there and spend the night and give the animals a rest.
One of the wagons could be emptied and the water barrels loaded up and taken by the mules to the pond to be filled with water. One of Evan’s brothers and a prospector took the wagon to the pond to fill the barrels.
Camp was set up and the search for buffalo chips and the evening fire. Evan had brought a small sack of coal from the railroad stop and that would make a good cook fire.
The water wagon returned and the oxen were watered and turned loose to graze and rest up for the journey tomorrow. Because of the mud they had only traveled about 10 miles for the day. Everybody was tired from slogging through the mud and pushing on the wagons to keep things going.
Stew and biscuits were on the fire and the coffee was perking. It was one of the quietest camps since they left. Hardly a word was said. The Canvas tarp was up to provide some relief from the sun and in the shade was most everybody.
Slowly to the west the sun edged on, supper was eaten and around the camp people sat quietly, occasional puff of smoke from a pipe. One of the prospectors went to the water wagon and dipped a bucket of water out, on toes he stealthy walked back to where his partner lay. The kids saw him and started giggling. A roar of a stuck pig rolled across the camp area. Right on top his partner went the full force of the water from the bucket. Hollering and sputtering, arms flailing he got to his feet, shaking his hat off. Then he understood what had happened, a gleam crossed his smile.
Across the wagon of water barrels he ran, grabbing a bucket, splash and after his partner he chased. There were squeals from the children and others grabbed buckets, the great water fight was on. Water was flying everywhere, wet shinny hair, soaking clothes, no one cared, it felt good and everybody was laughing.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Travels by the Rails II

As they traveled back to the wagons they noticed the horses were not struggling in the mud when they had went through earlier. On a ridge the water had not collected and was drying faster. Looking across the landscape they could see how the ridge followed along the sand creek and stayed above the low spots. It would add some to their trip but they would make better time out of the thick mud and be away the creek if it decided to rain so violently again.
When they got back to the wagons the mules and oxen were already yoked up and go to work. The wagons were secure yet they were not looking forward to the ordeal of getting the wagons up the hill to the flat part. They would double team the wagons to pull up the hill. Instead of four oxen it would be 8 oxen and the mules would hook onto the wagon sides for an extra pull.
The first wagon was ready, instead of going straight up the hill they were going to go across the face. It wasn’t steep enough to tilt the wagons and with the mules pulling on the uphill side it would balance things out. Ayahs and the first trip was under way.
Breath was held, the ooze rolled up the wheels and the spokes were in to the mud, oxen strained, mules stiff backed and teamsters working the animals. The men got behind the wagon pushing, slowly the wheels eased up out of the mud moving forward. A shout, “Don’t stop, keep it rolling. The wagon rocked and swayed as it began the ascent up the hill. Drivers were switching the animals to keep them pulling.
With the wagon rolling the team was able to keep it going uphill. The men went back to another wagon and get it ready for the climb. The oxen were doubled up but this time only a set of mules was put on the side pull. The animals were ready and they were at the back ready to push. One of the guys reached underneath the wagon and pulled out a spare axle to use as a lever to shove on the wagon with. Straining and shoving the wagon began to roll. Looking up the hill they could see that the first wagon was almost there. Deep ruts were left behind, the mud was packed down making a solid track for the other wagons.
When the first wagon got on top the oxen were un- hooked and led back down the rise to be hooked on to the next wagon. The mules followed behind and the process was repeated. The wagons were drug up the hill through the muck. Once on the rise it was somewhat drier. The sun was out in full force and the ground was drying fast.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Smoky Hill Trail

Pike’s Peak or Bust read the slogan painted on wagons headed westward. Very few of these wagons made it to Pike’s Peak. Most of them found their way to Denver and the gold camps to the west. For whatever reason the mountain that was named after Zebulon Pike became synonymous with Colorado. During the gold rush to Colorado a new trail was laid for the gold prospectors,
The Smoky Hill Trail began at Leavenworth, Kansas and ended at Denver, then a part of Kansas territory. Kansas was part of Indian country and at Leavenworth the military established a fort to help provide protection to the travelers. From this early Army Post smaller garrisons and forts were established.
With the first reports of gold being discovered in Colorado a group of Cherokee Indians read this report. They were working in the gold fields of northern Georgia, mining gold. They put together a party to go to Colorado and check out the reports. This group of Indians followed the Arkansas River to the village of Pueblo, then north thru the Black Forest to Cherry Creek and followed it to where it joined the South Platte River.
Here the Cherokees set up a base camp from which to explore the area and prospect for gold. They named the area Aurania after the town they had came from in Georgia. From here they spread out panning in the different creeks nearby. With some success at finding small amounts of gold they sent a party back to Georgia with information and to bring equipment. There were also other prospectors searching the creeks and one of the prospectors had been at some hot springs in the mountains and went panning in the nearby stream with a tin cup. He panned out about an ounce of gold with his cup. When he brought the gold dust back into Aurania and reports of gold went out and gold fever struck.
Wagons westward and the rush was on before the Indians could get back to Georgia and get their equipment.
The Smoky Hill trail was more direct and got the prospectors to Colorado quicker. At Resolis was a stage stop for the Butterfield Stage Line. Here the Smoky Hill Trail split. The south branch followed the stage route and the north branch followed a more northern route. In this area is where the Benkelman branch of the Smoky Hill road joined the Smokey Hill route.
The Benkelman route followed the Republican River across Kansas to Nebraska then followed the Arikaree River across Colorado to the area known at Cedar Point. Here there is forest of Cedar trees, springs and higher elevation and cooler in the summer. The Calvary had established and outpost in this area, a troop was assigned to this small fort. The Benkelman route also went through the Beecher Island Battle site.
With these routes diverging and converging at Cedar Ridge it would be assumed that there would be communities there. The fort was abandoned when the Civil War started and the stage stop withered away as did Cedar Point.
The wagons rolled across the plains with gold in the eyes of the drivers and his companions. These wagons carried their hopes and life. In a book on old time maps, The First Hundred Years, there was a list of items to stock these wagons with for the journey to the gold camps of Colorado. The page the map was on was titled, “Routes to Pike’s Peak.” Only one route came close to the mountain and that was the trail to Pueblo.
Some of the items on the list: two yoke of oxen, 1 wagon, 1 frying pan, 1 Dutch oven, …………400 lbs of bacon, 100 lbs of coffee, 3 gallons of brandy,2 bushels of dried fruit, 2 bushels of beans……… and the list goes on. The grand total was over $500.00, didn’t include the sundries, brandy candles and munitions. This was to supply four men for six months. There was also a list of tools, 4 steel picks with handles, 4 shovels, 2 gold pans, 2 lb quicksilver and retort, etc.
To the gold fields headed these hardy souls. Most of them made to the gold camps, few got rich and along the way are gravesites of those who didn’t.
In Denver there is the Four Mile Historical Park. It was the last stop on the Smokey Hill Trail before it entered Denver, four miles away. They have recreated lots buildings and equipment and have found diaries that some of the travelers kept during their journey. One of the biggest complaints about the traveling was not about Indians, it was about bugs. Sleeping on the grass or in a dug out they had to share it with the crawly critters. Pioneers used the trail along with the gold seekers.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Travels by the Rails . I

The wagon wheels groaned and screeched as they rolled over the ruts. The grease bucket had been almost empty until a couple of days ago. The wheels were squealing then and they were using the grease very sparingly. They came upon a buffalo carcass that had been skinned. The cut the tallow out and started a fire to render it and get some more grease. They also got some oil to use in their lantern at night. The trip had been long and testing. It had been 6 weeks since they had left St Louis. Today they were crossing in to Colorado Territory. In a couple of weeks they would be in Denver, their goal.

The wagon rolled along side by side or staggered abreast depending on the wind. Each morning the men would round up the Oxen and horses and milk the cows. It was a routine they had refined as the trip ground on. The pig would stay with the animals and the chickens were content in their cages. With the cows there was fresh milk for breakfast and pancakes to go with the eggs. There was bacon, dried meat, fruits and potatoes. The women had a small section of a wagon set aside to cook from. It was real easy to set up a cook site when they made camp.

It was three brothers and a sister plus their spouses and children moving west. Behind them was a store they had grown up in. The oldest brother had traveled out to Denver a couple of years earlier to Denver. When he returned to St. Louis, it was decided by the family they should start a store in Denver. There were reports of more gold discoveries and more people were heading to the mountains of Colorado to seek their fortune. Their father would stay with the store in St. Louis and take care of getting supplies to them in Denver.

The year was 1872 and they followed along beside the railroad tracks. A train would pass them each day going east and at night they would hear the west bound. They decided to ship part of their supplies by wagon because they would need the wagons when they got to Denver to make the deliveries. One of the wagons had mining tools, drills hammers, shovels and dynamite. That wagon was on the wing as they traveled and the brothers took turns driving it. There were also some gold seekers traveling with them, two brothers and in the other was wagon were some miners from Pennsylvania who wanted to go west and dig in some dirt that wasn't black. The prospectors stayed to themselves, only necessary conversation. There were still Indians along the trail and there were bandits that robbed unsuspecting travelers by themselves. Traveling in group like this there was less possibility of trouble.

They had fixed up two of the wagons with hoops and canvas for the children to ride in and provide some shade. Most of the party walked on the right side of these wagons for the shade unless the dust was real bad and the wind was blowing it over them. The sun was relentless. Each morning was a clear sky. At first light it was cool and this is when camp would break and the stock would be rounded up and hitched up. Traveling in the cool of the morning was easy on them and the animals. Following the sand creek there was the occasional trees to provide some shade and during the heat of the afternoon they would stop in one of these small groves for a rest. In the late afternoon the air would start to cool and they could travel on, walking on the right side of the wagons, sometimes 6 abreast rather than single file.

The morning had been a clear blue sky and no breeze. The travelers were expecting a hot day in the blistering sun. The stock was gathered up and the Oxen hooked to the wagons, horses hooked behind the wagons. The two cows and pig were herded by the two teen age boys. On the far horizon there was a ridge, at the last station where they had camped they were told that when they crossed the ridge they would get a view of the Rocky Mountains. With everything stowed the group headed toward the ridge. The sun had been up for a couple of hours. The Oxen were straining against the yokes as they worked their way across the ridge, ever so slow climbing the hill. As they cleared on ridge there was another in front of them. A few miles further they would be climbing again. It had been a slow morning but the crest of the ridge was just ahead and the sun was about at its zenith. When they got to the top of the hill they would stop for a lunch break.

As they began their ascent of the hill they could see clouds boiling up. They were frosty white piles of cotton reaching into the high air. The climb along the ridge of the hill to the crest was taking its toll on them and the animals. The closer they got to the ridge the stranger the animals were acting. The horses were snorting and the cattle wanted to head south. One of the brothers got on a horse and lassoed a cow and brought her back and had her tied to a wagon. He went off and got the other cow and led her to another wagon to be tied off also. The pig was snorting and the oxen were wheezing. The other horses were already tied to the wagons. They crested the ridge and then seen why the animals were acting funny. In the distance were squads of black clouds shooting off lightening. The storm appeared to be moving towards them and to the south. The animals were secured and everybody got ready for the storm.

Climbing to a small ledge they gathered the wagons around and tied off a tarp to the wagons to make some shelter. The rain was coming down in large drops as they worked. The faster they worked on getting prepared the harder the rain came down. Soon it was sheets, they had been able to look out and see the sand creek nearby. The rain had obliterated everything from view. The canvas was secure over the wagons affording some relief from the rain. Their companions were just above them and had pulled their wagons up next to each other and had crawled underneath the wagons for protection. Huddled under the wagons one of the brothers was sitting on the edge so he could look out and see what the sky looked.

He had just ducked his head back in when a roar of all roars was heard over the pounding of the rain. They looked at each other is disbelief and huddled closer together. The roar of the wind was becoming louder and the rain was no longer coming down, it was going sideways. Swirling around the corner of the canvas to fly underneath. The ground started to shake, eyes became wider and loaded with questions. The sound was almost deafening now, there was hail pelting the canvas now and the wind was trying to rip the canvas off the wagons. The animals had been real noisy were now suddenly silent. Then like that the roar was gone and the pelt of the rain on the tarp was a gentle tap.

Evan slowly moved to the edge of the tarp and looked off to the west, a patch of blue sky was on the horizon, the rain was an occasional drop. They were on a slope and trickles of water were rolling around them towards the sand creek. To the right was a small gulley rolling towards the creek and it was now dribbling muddy water. One of the gold seekers hollered, "Look at the Crick." Startled they glanced downwards, what had once been dry sand was now a muddy roily river. A roar rolled at them and turning to look upstream they all saw it. A wall of water tearing at everything that got in its way. It smashed into the bank they were on throwing water up in the air, tearing out part of the bank. They stood in amazement, now they understood why so, many travelers told them to stay on higher ground and not follow the creek bed. If they had been closer to the creek they would now be handed for Kansas.

Below them raged a torrent, even in the spring when the Missouri flooded, it was nothing like this. Nothing stood in the way of the water, waves five and six feet tall rolled over everything. There was the occasional animal Caracas come flying by. So entranced they were they forgot where they were. They had been several hundred yards from the crick now it was just a few feet. More of the sand bank caved in and went downstream. This startled them and brought them back.

The rain had made the ground so soggy that they were waking in soup and the mud was sticking to their boots making things awkward. With the collapse of the bank it brought them back to their situation. They were far enough back from the edge to be safe if there were some more collapses. The little gully beside them was filling up with water quickly and almost beside them. In the mud nothing could be moved. They could only sit and hope for the best. The animals could be tended to. The oxen were released to graze and the horses were on picket. The cows stood nearby looking at things and the hog, well it was being a pig..

The sun was growing brighter and the rainbows were shimmering in the sky. The water level in the gully beside had dropped some and the rivulets among them were becoming puddles. Till the ground dried some they were stuck there. Some dry kindling was tied under the wagons and when they got a fire going the buffalo chips would dry real quick. Evening was a while yet but there was some work to do on the gear and rigs..